Something’s terribly wrong when a leaf is frightening

Something’s terribly wrong when a leaf is frightening

Parshat Bechukotai Leviticus 26:3-27:34

Bechukotai — literally “My law” — is the last parshah in Leviticus, functioning as an epilogue to the entire book. Through Moses, the Lord gives the people of Israel a strong motivation to follow the laws that have been set before them. Blessings or curses will be bestowed, depending on whether they follow the path as God’s people or stray from it. Here, as in Chapter 28 of Deuteronomy, the number of curses far exceeds the number of blessings.

As I refreshed my memory of this parshah, the curse that kept surfacing in my thoughts was “the sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight” (Leviticus 26:36). It refers to the Israelites, who will feel so faint in the land of their enemies that they will flee, though no one pursues them, and scatter in terror at the sound of a wind-driven leaf.

In my years of riding horses, I have experienced the kind of fear a wind-driven leaf can inspire. One horse, Captain Coal, was as competent in the show ring as he was on the trail, and we had many wonderful rides together. Only one thing would set him off — a wind-driven leaf skittering across the road. It defied logic that he weighed 1,200 pounds and stayed calm in the many truly frightening situations such as falling trees, snapping dogs and charging bucks, yet the sound of a leaf would make him turn tail and gallop away.

Could it be that we American Jews live in the era of the “driven leaf?” Jews have survived so much in our 4,000-year history: slavery, exile from our homeland, the destruction of the Second Temple and ensuing diaspora, pogroms, inquisitions and the Holocaust. We have suffered horrendous calamities and still survived, yet it is the prosperity and relative acceptance in America that may threaten our future existence. We also live in a time when we have many distractions and choices competing for our time. The era when the only moments of beauty in a shtetl Jew’s life were the camaraderie of fellow Jews worshipping together, the uplifting nature of the liturgy and the rabbi’s message and the sound of the cantor’s beautiful voice is but a distant memory.

To take the metaphor of the leaf in a different direction, those of us who care about this issue must ensure that no Jew ever is driven away. May I suggest that each worshipping congregant in the synagogue setting — not just the members of the welcoming committee — see it as her or his responsibility to greet each stranger in our midst. We must recognize that any newcomer entering our sacred spaces for the first time does so with a certain amount of trepidation. Every person in every synagogue is

capable of offering the newcomer something that he or she cannot find on social media — a one-on-one relationship. Let us all vow to create worship spaces that are warm and welcoming and embracing, and where no one is driven (galloping!) away.

Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek!

(Cantor Michal Gray-Schaffer is the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Abraham in Butler.)